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You Can’t Learn the Four Rules of Gun Safety

by Andy Rutledge 0 Comments
You Can’t Learn the Four Rules of Gun Safety

One hundred percent of gun owners I never see at the range training with their guns and more than half of those I do see training with their guns have at least one thing in common: when they handle firearms, I see them fail to adhere to the four rules of gun safety.

The reason I continually see these safety failures by gun owners is that one cannot learn these four safety rules. Learning, as we typically understand it, is intellectual. Safety failures, however, are unconscious and based on habitual action. In order to serve you when it counts, the four rules of gun safety must become unconscious, physical habit. Developing these unconscious habits, as proven by countless examples of human performance, requires thousands of properly practiced repetitions. Thousands of repetitions.

The 4 Rules of Gun Safety

  1. Always treat every firearm as though it is loaded.
  2. Never point the muzzle at something you’re not willing to destroy.
  3. Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on the target and you’re ready to shoot.
  4. Always be sure of your target and what is beyond it.

From what I’ve seen and read, most gun owners do not train with their firearms every week, every month, or even every year and they seldom practice basic firearm manipulation. Most simply keep their gun in the safe or in the drawer or in the holster. Their logic is “My gun is there for when I need it.” Well, too bad competence will not be there when they need it. The average gun owner is not alone in this irresponsible approach. Even most law enforcement officers train with their guns only once or twice a year (!). With such irresponsible habits among gun owners, actual gun safety is a rarity.

Below: Distracted by the camera, rules 1 and 2 are unconsciously broken:

unsafe

Nice prom photo…except for the fact that the girl is pointing her weapon directly at her prom date’s legs. Inattention fail.

You Must Train

If you’re a gun owner, how many thousands of times have you handled firearms, starting automatically by checking and clearing the chamber (every time no matter what!), then continually keeping your muzzle pointed in a safe direction with your finger outside the trigger guard until your sights are already on your target, having already checked to be sure of what is beyond and near your target? How many thousands of times?

Until you have these thousands of repetitions of all sorts of firearm manipulations you can’t be habitually safe with a firearm. So train! Train regularly. Train continually. Train with a variety of firearm types (if possible). Train in all the things you’ll do with a firearm:

  • Draw from holster and re-holster. Unloaded. Loaded.
  • Pick up from a bench/table and rack the slide or close the action. Replace on bench/table (slide/action locked open).
  • Load magazines, tube, or cylinder with ammunition. Unload Magazines, tube, or cylinder.
  • Insert magazine. Remove magazine.
  • Rack the slide / load the chamber.
  • Eject rounds to clear the chamber (or rifle/shotgun equivalent).
  • Exchange magazines when firing to empty.
  • Draw magazine (from pocket and/or mag holder) while keeping your gun’s muzzle in a safe direction
  • Hold at (various) ready positions, press/aim, fire.
  • field strip.

…Do all these things while adhering strictly to the four rules of gun safety.

These are all common, basic manipulations every gun owner must do with a firearm and they all need to be performed in a habitually safe manner. Every time. Note that these are just firearm manipulations and do not include other likely necessary operations, like moving while drawing, moving while shooting, moving while dropping and exchanging magazines, crouching and standing while doing all of these things, etc…

My Practice Tally

I’m at the range 3-5x/week and I do dry-fire practice at home most off days. This regimen ensures that in addition to the many manipulations and operations with my guns, I get the following fundamental reps:

Manipulation X Per Week X Per Year
Safely Draw / Re-holster 90 4,500
Safely Pick Up 150 7,500
Safely Load / Unload 80 4,000
Safely Exchange Mags 80 4,000

Even with this weekly regimen it took me several months before I began to be consistent in my safe handling of firearms. I was almost always thinking about being safe, but it took quite a while for my reactions and unconscious responses to become habitually safe. Even now, when I encounter some unexpected manipulation (first time with a pistol with an odd slide lock location, etc.), I might lapse momentarily and find I have pointed the muzzle at a wall or something else I don’t want to destroy. So I practice regularly.

The four rules of gun safety are not hard. They’re not difficult to grasp or understand or put into practice, but they can’t be learned intellectually; they’re entirely dependent upon unconscious physical habit. When you don’t have those habits deeply ingrained through a great deal of continuing practice manipulating and using firearms according to those four rules, you are not safe.

Here’s a group of people breaking at least 3 of the 4 rules of gun safety:

an unsafe group

This photo is from Chariot India travel company, Notice the unconscious but deadly gun safety violations: the standing woman with her finger on the trigger, and pointed in the direction of the seated women; the seated woman pointing her pistol directly at her partner seated beside her. Via Great Ads

It’s all fun and games until your girlfriend puts her finger on the trigger:

Robertson

Here is John Luke Robertson (of Duck Dynasty fame) and friends with their firearms. Notice the girl has her finger on the trigger. Also, John Luke has his muzzle dangerously in the vicinity of the girl’s head. Safety fail in a happy, distracted moment.

Unsafe at Any Speed: The Springfield Armory 911

I have the opportunity each month to try out a different handgun—either a brand new model or an established model that are new to me—and then write a first-blush review article about it. As a one-gun guy I train exclusively with my carry pistol, so getting to shoot and review other models on a regular basis allows me to become familiar with different platforms and, essentially, survey the landscape of handguns. I enjoy this shoot-and-review process and sometimes there are unexpected rewards.

One such reward is the rare opportunity to find a fatal flaw in a firearm and warn my fellow citizens about it. Sadly, when shooting the new Springfield Armory’s 911 subcompact pistol this week, I found one of these flaws and folks need to know about it.

“This will get someone killed.”

The Springfield 911 is a new model of subcompact, hammer-fired pistol that is chambered in .380 auto. It is of the same design and dimensions as the Sig Sauer P238 (in fact my friends at a local gun range found that the magazines are interchangeable between the two models—at least they fit perfectly and feed dummy ammo—no one has tried to fire the pistols with the mags exchanged).

The Springfield 911 feels pretty good in my hand (and hands) and delivers very little recoil when shooting it. Also nice, I was able to get amazing accuracy from this little pistol…when it actually fired.

The problem arose immediately in my first string of firing. After the third shot, I got a dead trigger. After a couple of futile trigger presses, I cleared it and tried again dry. Still dead. I thought perhaps an internal component broke and called the range officer over for a look. He saw what model I was shooting and said that he knew the problem: the safety had engaged. This was a problem he had seen with every individual who had rented the gun and tried to shoot it. “This will get someone killed,” he remarked as we were both aghast, discussing the failed-self-defense implications of this design flaw. He is right. This is truly a fatal flaw.

Springfield 911

The Problem

The issue occurs in one of two ways: When shooting two-handed, the mild recoil impulse causes the meaty part of your support-hand thumb to flick the left-side safety lever up enough to engage it. The other way happens when shooting one-handed; the same recoil impulse causes the base of your trigger finger to slightly engage the right-side safety lever. I experienced the failure shooting two-handed, but not one-handed. My range-officer friend experienced the failure when shooting one-handed; I’m guessing due to his particular hand size and shape and grip.

The reason the safety lever is so easily engaged may be due in part to its location and design, but the primary culprit is the ridiculously weak toggle strength. It takes almost no pressure to move the lever from one position to the next. If it had any stiffness at all things might go differently. As it is, this is a “safety” lever that will engage or disengage at the drop of a hat. Meaning: in the frantic moment when you’re trying to save your life, your trigger will go dead and you’ll be defenseless against your attackers.

Right now my informed recommendation is DO NOT BUY. Springfield Armory needs to immediately address this fatal flaw. I highly recommend Springfield implement an immediate recall of the pistol and redesign of the component.

Wartime EDC Truck Rig

We are at war. Since one never knows when the war will be brought by mob of leftist thugs or Islamic terrorists to the street one is driving on, it makes sense to have enhanced defense capability in one’s automobile.

.300BLK SBR

My SBR goes with me everywhere.

As a matter of course, and like many responsible Americans, I am armed every waking moment with my Glock 19 (and 2 spare magazines whenever I leave the house). Additionally, I carry a RATS tourniquet and both folding and fixed-blade knives with me. Since this is a time of war, whenever I leave the house I bring my .300BLK short barreled rifle with me. My rifle is loaded, but one magazine might not prove sufficient in a situation where my vehicle is blocked or disabled and a violent mob descends upon my location; or if a small team of jihadis armed with fully automatic AKs decides to make a religious statement in my location. So I carry a light-but-effective chest rig, too.

I carry my Haley Strategic Disruptive Environments chest rig in the driver’s-side door panel of my truck.

chest rig in my truck

My WEDC chest rig

Note that the rig is fitted to my body size and the ends of the straps are wound up with 100MPH tape, so there are no loose ends flopping around.

My WEDC chest rig and contents

The rig’s contents include:

  • 4 full rifle magazines
  • 2 full pistol magazines (for my EDC pistol)
  • 6″ compression bandage
  • flashlight
  • write-in-the-rain pen and pad
  • Sharpie

These—along with the med kit in my truck that quickly clips onto the chest rig, the tourniquet, flashlight, and multi-tool in my pocket, and the knife and phone on my belt—are a nice complement to my EDC pistol and rifle. With these I can shoot, move, communicate, and treat a serious wound.

It is rather unlikely that I’ll ever need to employ my truck rig’s capabilities. But it’s also rather unlikely one would ever need to employ a fire extinguisher. However, as history clearly illustrates: better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it.

Your Weapon’s Status

In what condition is every gun you own right now? Unloaded? Loaded? Loaded and chambered? Is the external safety gadget on or off, for each firearm? Are they in different conditions or all the same? How do you know? Are you 100% certain or would you have to do a press check to be sure? Does everyone in your household know with certainty the condition of each firearm you own without touching it? How?

This is not a situation you can treat with casual negligence. If you own one or more firearms, responsibility requires that you and everyone in your household know at all times with 100% certainty the condition of every one of them. If you or they do not, you must fix that situation. Right now.

rifle and pistol

This means that for any of your firearms, holstered on your person, stored, staged…no matter where or how they are placed, located, or carried, there should never be a moment where you or anyone else in your household has to wonder whether it is unloaded, loaded and/or chambered, or if a “safety” selector is on or off. In the event someone in your household finds a firearm they did not expect to find (in a closet, in a drawer, etc…) or if they grab it in a time of desperate need, they can be certain of its current condition even without touching it, and be able to act deliberately rather than tentatively.

And, by the way, this is an easy standard to maintain when you use a system of simple conventions.

Note: As a matter of responsibility, you and everyone in your household should regard all firearms as loaded, and should regard any “safety” lever as irrelevant; something to be kept in the “fire” position at all times and otherwise ignored—except with semi-auto rifles.

A System of Certainty

Here is a simple system that I know from experience works well to ensure you and those in your home never have to lean on discrete memory in order to know any of your guns’ condition. So long as you have no children younger than 6 to 9 in the home, even if just on occasion, System 1 is likely best for you. Otherwise, System 2 is likely best.

System 1 Conventions:

  1. All guns are always loaded, except while being cleaned, no matter whether they’re currently carried, stored, or staged.
  2. All pistols in a holster are loaded and chambered, whether on your person, stored in a safe, staged for home defense or even if in a range bag; holstered means chambered.
  3. All semi-auto/auto rifles have the bolt closed on an empty chamber (with a full magazine loaded, per convention 1) and the selector is on safe (this convention includes any “pistol”-configured AR or AK firearms).
  4. For pistols, bolt rifles, and shotguns, if there is an external safety control, the control is set to fire. Always and without exception.

You might use slightly different conventions. Maybe your pistols in holsters are not chambered. Maybe your semi-auto/auto rifles are chambered. I don’t recommend those approaches, but they may be appropriate for your situation. The point is to have as much blanket consistency as is practicable.

If you’re going to keep any of your guns unloaded, it is then imperative that you keep ALL guns unloaded (convention 1 must be 100% applicable to all guns not currently on your person) and perhaps opt for System 2 (below).

A System Variation

System 1 conventions might not work well for you if you have young children – and/or young children are sometimes in the home, like grandchildren, neighbors’ kids, or friends’ children. As such, System 2 might be best for you.

System 2 Conventions:

  1. All guns stored or staged, are always unloaded (and yet always treated as though they are loaded).
  2. A pistol carried on your person is always loaded and chambered (and in a holster).

It’s no more complicated than this. Once your children are of a certain age (that you determine, perhaps around 6 to 9 years old) and properly trained, it is best that you change to the more relevant and appropriate System 1 conventions.

Note: if children of any age other than yours are ever in your home, you have a legal and moral responsibility to ensure they have no way of gaining access to your firearms. They do not know your system and are likely wholly unsafe with firearms. Take appropriate steps.

For Carry & Training

If you don’t have an inviolate rule regarding the condition of your carry gun at all times, you cannot act deliberately when required. Instead, because of ignorance or second guessing or a simple mistake, you must act tentatively or mistakenly. This sort of irresponsibility can easily cost you your life, or the life of someone you love.

Component to the aforementioned systems, to gun safety, and to carry competence is the fact that one should never reholster an unloaded pistol; not at home, not in training, not in a class: never. When you’re training at the range and drawing from and returning to a holster, and run empty, you must either reload the pistol before reholstering – or – place the pistol on a barrel, table, or bench and pointed in a safe direction with the action open until you are ready to reload it.

No exceptions.

If you get into the habit of sometimes, even rarely, having an unloaded pistol in your holster, you will never again be able to be sure of your gun’s status. You may think you can, but you are wrong and 100% guaranteed to fail.

And yes, this means that if an instructor requires that you have an unloaded or even un-chambered pistol in your holster during a class, don’t take that class. It stands to reason that if you are unsure about the conventions of an instructor’s class, discuss this matter with them and explain your inviolate personal rule before you commit to the class. It is likely that accommodations can be made. If not, you know your choice.

Dry-fire Practice

To engage in dry-fire practice you have to introduce a mild variation into your system. While the gun carried on your person will still be loaded, it will just be loaded with snap caps rather than with live ammunition.

For dry-fire practice you will unload your firearm and take it, your magazine(s), and snap caps into a different room where no live ammunition is present, and charge your magazine(s) with the snap caps, which you will load and chamber into your pistol before holstering it. If you have a gun that has a workable trigger and doesn’t need to be charged for each dry shot, use mags loaded with snap caps anyway so that you don’t get into the habit of being okay with an empty gun (you must never put an empty gun into your holster).

When you’re finished with dry-fire practice, reverse the process and take your now-empty gun back to where your ammo & mags are (the one place where you load, unload, and clean your guns) and return it to its proper condition; be that loaded or unloaded for storage – or loaded, to again be carried on your person (in which case I highly recommend repeating, out loud, “My gun is hot now, and loaded with live ammo,” a few times before getting on with your day.

sbr

Conclusion

Human beings are creatures of habit. The only way to eliminate negligent habits is to forge unconscious, deliberately uncompromising, safe habits (as described in the 4 Rules of Firearm Safety) and to never rely on gadgets, mechanics, or technology in place of individual responsibility.

A firearm cannot be safe or unsafe. A person is safe or unsafe. No firearm gadget or lever can make an unsafe person safe with a firearm. Graveyards are filled with the victims of those who negligently believed otherwise.

You do not want or need the anxiety of ever wondering whether your gun or one of your many guns is loaded or unloaded, chambered or un-chambered, safety on or off. These are things that responsibility requires you and your household members know with 100% certainty at all times.

Use a system. Make sure everyone in your home knows the system. Conduct periodic pop quizzes to ensure everyone is on the same page. Be safe and be certain.